This is the only one of the four acting categories that seems to have a lot of play left to work with, only it's not because there is a massive pool of can't-miss candidates to choose from but, rather, because almost none of them seem to have what it takes to lock down a position. The two major exceptions are Daniel Day-Lewis for swallowing almost every last critics' award in sight whole (when he took nearly as much time waking up in the film's epilogue as it took 2001: A Space Odyssey's apes to discover the monolith, we knew he had this award pretty well sewn up), and George Clooney for turning in a by-the-numbers example of a glamour-puss reining it in by interpreting his character as having perpetual acid reflux. In fact, had he just taken his strategy to its logical ends and ripped as much ass on the screen as did his co-star Tom Wilkinson, he might have actually stood a chance at giving Day-Lewis's beyond-flatulent performance a run for the trophy. As it stands, he's one of those archetypal sure-thing nominees that no one, but no one, expects to actually win. As for the rest of the category, none of the other contenders have more credits than debits going into this. Johnny Depp would be a stronger possibility if the SAG had demonstrated any affection at all for Sweeney Todd, or if anyone could make a convincing argument that his whispery singing voice shouldn't have been dubbed. Emile Hirsch carries an overlong DV epic on his cute little shoulders; as Michael Musto wrote, he's this year's Ryan Gosling, but for the fact that Gosling is still inexplicably in the mix this year (which makes it the first time a movie about a sex doll has figured into the Oscar race since, well, Little Miss Sunshine last year). For Academy members who prefer their male kink of a more mature vintage, Viggo Mortensen's inked and in-the-raw sauna showdown certainly counts as one of the bravest performances of the year. He may just get the nomination that Cronenberg lamentably couldn't quite manage for Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, or Jeremy Irons. We're going with those three—Depp, Hirsch, Mortensen—but we can't say they have much leverage on James McAvoy (too pretty, but if that prissy little bitch over in the best supporting actress category can survive the Atonement meltdown, maybe he can too), Frank Langella (his bathtub nude scene doesn't quite match Mortensen's, pound for pound), or Denzel Washington (two movies totaling about a half a performance). Such is the state of this category that I wouldn't have ruled out the two stars of the surprise #1 hit The Bucket List had the movie been released a few weeks earlier.
Will Be Nominated: George Clooney (Michael Clayton), Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street), Emile Hirsh (Into the Wild), and Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises)
Should Be Nominated: Benicio del Toro (Things We Lost in the Fire), Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises), Gordon Pinsent (Away from Her), Sam Riley (Control), and Thomas Turgoose (This Is England)
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.